May 15

‘Bite Size’ Histories of Lanzarote Chapter 4: Living on a Hot Rock

‘Bite Size’ Histories of Lanzarote

  Chapter Four: Living on a Hot Rock.


People sometimes ask, ‘Doesn’t it worry you living on a volcanic island?’

The short answer is ‘No.’

The reality is that there has never been a single person killed, as a direct result of volcanic action, on Lanzarote, in recorded history.

‘There’s always a first time,’ the pessimists mutter.

Nothing is ever 100% certain but the odds are in our favour. For a start volcanic eruptions are the least damaging of all natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, avalanches, hurricanes etc.)

Timanfaya National Park

Timanfaya National Park

Also the volcanoes of the Canary Islands belong to the ‘Hawaiian’ or ‘Stromboli’ category and the main characteristic of this type is that eruptions are preceded by warnings. Minor earth tremors, smoke emissions, chemical changes and temperature variations give notice up to six months before eruptions take place.

They have every device known to science, for detecting volcanic activity right here, on Lanzarote. Readings from scientific instruments in Timanfaya National Park and Jameos del Agua are transmitted to Madrid and studied by Spain’s ‘Higher Council for Scientific Research,’ who monitor and evaluate them constantly. So we are unlikely to be caught on the hop!

Jameos del Agua

Jameos del Agua

There have been various theories as to the origins of the island including that it was part of Africa or part of the mythical continent of Atlantis.

But, scientists now think that it is completely volcanic and developed in three cycles of volcanic activity dating way back to the Miocene period. That’s somewhere between 5 million and 24.6 million years ago, just in case you didn’t know! (I looked it up.)

The most recent eruptions were between July and September of 1824 and, much more spectacular, from 1730 to 1736, in the Timanfaya region of the island.

If you take the main road south towards these ‘newest’ volcanoes, ‘The Fire Mountains,’ you will pass on your left, in the Femes area, part of the oldest formation, Los Ajaches, at least 5 million years old!

Los Ajaches

Los Ajaches


The other remaining part of the original formation is Famara in the north. These old geologic mountain formations have been eroded by time to their present reduced surface area of 200 square kilometres. Spread out over the two areas Famara, cut in a length by a 500 metre high cliff and the more weather-beaten basaltic layers of los Ajaches, in the Femes region, may have originally been joined.

Famara Cliffs (on the right) from Tao

Famara Cliffs (on the right) part of the oldest massif, from Tao

The second and third series of eruptions occurred in the Second Volcanic Cycle, between the Pliocene and Pleistocene eras (that’s between 2 million and 5 million years ago) creating a large area, particularly in the central region of the island.

The fourth series, or Recent Volcanism, from a few thousand years ago, includes the historic eruptions, which formed the malpaises (pathless volcanic lava). The volcanoes from this period are well preserved and include La Quemada de Orzola, La Corona, Los Heleches, Tahiche and the Zonzamas group (named for the Majo king, whose ‘palace’ is situated there).

'Palace' of Zonzamas. There are plans to develop the site as a tourist attraction.

Ruins of the ‘Palace’ of Zonzamas. There are plans to develop the site as a tourist attraction.


It’s pretty awe inspiring, looking up at something and thinking ‘That’s been there for millions of years.’ I find myself wondering, ‘What was the noise like when all this was heaved up to the surface? How long did it take for the dust to settle?’

But, there was no one to see or hear it.


All credit to the clever chaps who worked out all this volcanic cycle stuff, but what makes the 18th century eruptions so important is that there is an eye witness account!

The Priest of Yaiza, Andres Lorenzo Curbelo wrote his unique testimony of the events of 1730 to 1736 and he describes the flames and the heat and the noise!

More than twenty villages and some of the most fertile land on the island were buried in the eruptions.

But, no one was killed.


Written by Sue Almond


Find Part 5 here

Photograph, Jameos del Agua by Maxine Featherstone

Other Photographs by Sue Almond


Category: Lanzarote, Journalism. Tags: Articles, Lanzarote, Story Telling

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